By Tyler Lacoma
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If you’re a fan of the Oculus Rift VR headset, we’ve got good news for you: Not only has Facebook launched the Oculus Go to bolster the product line, but it looks like the Oculus Rift 2 (currently known as “Project Santa Cruz”) is nearing a release date well. Reports already confirm that prototypes have been sent to third party developers so that can work on their software.
The information we’ve gathered below gives a pretty good look at what the next Oculus Rift will look like, but we’re still waiting for Oculus Connect 2018 in October to learn important details about Project Santa Cruz — which is very likely to be introduced there. Here’s what we know so far.
More sit-down experiences
At E3 2018, we heard from Oculus that a significant number of Oculus Rift fans prefer to sit down for their VR experiences. This is important for a couple reasons. First, it means that super-sensitive room-wide detection and sensors aren’t quite as important (and as you’ll see below, there’s reason to think that Project Santa will have a very different type of tracking from the first Rift).
Also, it’s important that Oculus is acknowledging at a gaming event: This could well mean that more sit-down VR experiences are on the way for Cruz. This of course includes racing and flying simulations, but we’re anxious to see what else developers come up with.
72Hz Refresh Rate
At the 2018 Game Developers Conference, Oculus announced that, like the new Oculus Go, the Santa Cruz project would also include a 72Hz refresh rate, most likely as the default refresh rate.
Since Santa Cruz is cordless, it was unlikely that Oculus would be able to push it as high as the 90Hz seen in the original Oculus Rift, but having a default 72Hz is still quite impressive for a mobile VR headset. This positions the Santa Cruz as less of an Oculus Rift 2 and more of sidestep from the Oculus Go.
140-degree field of view
Facebook and Oculus have also released a “half-dome” prototype that appears to also be a progenitor to Santa Cruz. This prototype included varifocal lensfocusing technology (which we’ll talk about in more detail about below), but it’s particularly interesting to note that the half-dome’s field of view was much larger than the original Rift.
While the Oculus Rift had a 110-degree field of view, this prototype expanded that to 14o degrees. That could mean a big immersive improvement for the final Santa Cruz that takes it beyond even premium headsets like the HTC Vive Pro. We don’t yet at this point how much of the technology from the half-dome prototype will be integrated into the Santa Cruz.
The cordless Rift
Back in 2016, we got a chance to test out one of the early prototypes of Project Santa Cruz. It was very similar to the original Rift, but with a few extra components, including extra cameras — and no cords.
Obviously this makes movement much easier to arrange, but Oculus has been firm that the new headset will still offer PC VR quality even without being wired in. That means an external computer may well not be necessary at all. The prototype we worked with had processors like the kind you would find in mobile phones, but Oculus has been working to make sure the experience is not diminished.
The Project Santa Cruz prototype uses original controllers with large rings perched on top.
These rings were designed to communicate the controller positions faster and more accurately using sets of infrared LEDs. It’s a little odd to have those rings attached at the top of the controller, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the final product includes a more compact controller design. There’s also the possibility that Oculus will use the “Knuckle” controllers, which have also been recently sent out to developers.
Our expectations for Project Santa Cruz
So, what would we like to see on the final form of Project Santa Cruz? Here are a few of our top desires (backed up by what we’ve seen from Santa Cruz so far).
Better AAA gaming
Content remains a mixed bag for VR. Some VR content particularly, simple programs aimed at kids has done quite well. But outside of converting a few big titles to VR (the Fallout 4 way), few triple-A titles have been created specifically for full VR setups like the Oculus Rift.
This is set to change. The Oculus Head of Content Jason Rubin has already said that, “What we think consumers want, and what’s going to work, is AAA content,” regarding the Rift 2. That’s why the Rift 2 prototype was given to major developers so early: Oculus really wants to include long-lasting, rich gaming experiences that come out on release and give people a good reason to keep using their headsets.
We don’t have any confirmation of specific games yet, but they are likely to be original franchises rather than ports, with fewer of those short “experiences” that the Rift used to get people familiar with VR. Since Rift has recently passed HTC Vive in popularity in the Steam Hardware & Software survey, there may well be many major developers willing to take up the opportunity.
Tracking in the first Oculus Rift was a complex matter of setting up the right sensors in a clear space and then recalibrating them as needed. It’s a little time-consuming for the average consumer, and not very living-room friendly (the PSVR does a better job at this, and is still a little annoying).
Since then, we have seen better methods. Project Santa Cruz seems ready to embrace what is known as “inside-out tracking,” which is a set of sensors on the headset itself that scan the space around and try to accurately orientate the headset without nearly so much use of external sensors.
If inside-out tracking proves accurate enough to support the content Oculus has in mind, we are sure that updated, easier-to-use tracking to will be a main feature on the Rift 2.
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